08/01/1999 at 01:00 AM EDT
Only Jacqueline Kennedy could have pulled it off, throwing a party on the night of her husband's funeral. But Nov. 25, 1963, was John Jr.'s 3rd birthday, and even as she and a shattered nation mourned the murdered President, there would be cake, presents and a song for their son. Jackie was determined to set a pattern: The children would lead normal lives.
As if that were possible. Still, Jackie managed to steer John Jr. and Caroline through youths astonishingly free of turbulence, absent the misadventures that so famously dogged some of their more rambunctious cousins. "If you bungle raising your children," she once said, "I don't think whatever else you do matters very much." Their lives were something of a paradox—lived in plain sight, largely on the streets of Manhattan, yet shielded from the public, press and even the Kennedy clan itself. The children would have several surrogate fathers—their uncles Bobby and Ted, as well as Jackie's second husband, Aristotle Onassis. But the true force was Jackie, whose serenely elegant facade masked an unshakable will. "You didn't get into any arguments with her, and you never said no," says her half brother, historian James Auchincloss. She could be controlling, dissuading John from an acting career—and at least one actress. But in an interview with NBC's Katie Couric in May, JFK Jr. made clear his loyalty and love. "She took a lot of pride in being a good mother," he said. "And I'm glad people think it worked."